In the six weeks or so since TennisFortWorth.com first went live, I have heard from old friends whose tennis lives I have followed for many years and learned about players whose accomplishments I should have known about a long time ago. Problem is -- and I guess this is a good problem to have -- the Greater Fort Worth area is so loaded with talented tennis players that it has always been hard to keep up.
Such is the case with the lovely Gean Craig, a funny, talented, well-known, beautiful tennis player/coach for more than a half-century, yet a woman I am only now getting to know. Gean lives in Arlington, her home for the last 20 years, and plays regularly at Arlington Tennis Center, TCU and with "the gang at Fielder Road Park," where there are two courts on which she and her fellow seniors really feel at home.
Gean won't reveal her age, because, "I think when anybody sees an age, they think [I'm] barely alive," she says, laughing. She's a 5-foot-2 little sliver of a thing, still wearing a size-2 tennis skirt.
Her fun personality, fluid form and colorful outfits make her a great photo opportunity, which is how she wound up as the subject of a gorgeous watercolor by her good friend Les Vanover of Granbury. In March of this year, Les managed to take a picture of Gean hitting a behind-the-back shot -- a shot she says she has hit three times! -- then he painted the work (which accompanies this blog) and enhanced it on his computer. He said he knew creating the painting would make Gean happy, so he joyfully took on the project.
Vanover, a former world-class high jumper, and Gean are dear friends. They also like to go country-and-western dancing a couple of nights a week at the Stagecoach Ballroom just northeast of downtown, across the Trinity River. Theirs is a long, beautiful Texas friendship.
Which is what I am trying to build with Gean Craig. This patient woman told me about the painting a month ago, and I thought I would be able to blog about it immediately. But as TennisFortWorth.com has begun to catch on, I have gotten busier and busier, so I had to place my new friend on the backburner. I hope Gean can forgive me!
Now I will give you some of her tennis background: Gean is a member of the Texas Tennis Coaches Hall of Fame (she coached for 22 years at Dumas High School in Dumas, Texas, 50 miles north of Amarillo) and a two-time inductee into the Panhandle Sports Hall of Fame. She was a secretary/treasurer of the Texas Tennis Coaches Association.
Gean plays with Louise Cooper's Fort Worth Super Senior Ladies USTA league team (side note: I played on a team with Louise Cooper when I moved to Fort Worth in the late 1980s, and she was so classy and hard-working that I am not surprised she is doing this well into her senior years). Dory Habenicht of the popular "Grandma Groupies" of Arlington Tennis Center is also on Gean's team.
Gean loves USTA league doubles play and says it keeps her feeling young and fit (all that dancing must help, too). Her favorite strokes are -- wait for it - drop shots and lobs. Don't we all just looooove those?
"I give a private lesson now and then," Gean says, "but I just want to play. I also love to decorate tennis rackets and give them to my friends and display them."
Gean is a two-time breast-cancer survivor, having been diagnosed in 1987 and 1997 on April 1, "10 years apart, to the day," she says. She had two hip replacements in 2007.
"I've made a comeback by playing tennis," she says, triumphantly.
Vanover, her artist/dance partner, is proud of her, too. Her wellness means there will be more photo opps, which we hope they will capitalize on and send our way.